At first, it looked like it was just a hike through one of New England’s forests. Walking, I heard the crackling of twigs beneath me and the sunshine breaking through where the massive oaks would allow; it was just a hike.
Traveling deeper into the endless green, I heard the immense sound of air pushed by the flight of wild creatures, casting near dinosauric shadows around me; it was just a hike.
Coming to a small opening in the trees, the sound of far-off running water forced my gaze into the dense, green forest. The sight of animals at home in the green and brown covering caught my stare, and suddenly I was pushed over the edge of relaxation into something more meditative—something that felt more like peace.
All at once, I was reminded I was a stranger in their homeland.
All at once, I was reminded…
It wasn’t just a hike.
So, before you start thinking I’m some sort of radical tree-hugging hippy (though, we should save the trees), I’m far from alone in my boast of the beauty and benefits of blue skies and time spent outside.
Shinrin-yoku is a term coined in Japan that means “taking in the forest atmosphere,” or, the more common translation, “forest bathing.” The term was developed in 1982 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, though it is a concept that dates back much farther. Humans have spent the majority of their existence outdoors, and while the benefits of city life can be numerous, a lack of time spent in nature can be detrimental to our physical, mental, and spiritual health.
In fact, spending time in nature is scientifically proven to boost one’s immune system, reduce high blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve sleep, amongst many other benefits. Many trees also give off organic compounds that help support our natural killer cells, which can bind to certain tumor cells and virus-infected cells without the stimulation of antigens.
You don’t have to seek out some mystical experience amongst the trees to reap the health benefits that nature presents. You merely have to go outside. Going for a hike, playing sports, and going for a run are all great ways to boost your overall health. You also don’t have to trek miles into a forest to experience forest bathing. Finding a park to walk in that will allow you to take in the trees, feel the sunshine and breeze on your skin, and spend time in nature will certainly suffice.
If the anecdotal or scientific benefits of spending time in nature don’t compel you, I encourage you to try to spend two hours outside amongst the trees and see how you feel by the end of the week. And in a world that will see approximately 75% of its population dwelling in cities in less than 50 years, it’s vitally important we get connected with the land that gave us life.